Next Line, Please

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down …

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By David Lehman

May 5, 2015


 

To complete our collaborative cento, I opted for Jennifer Clarvoe’s juxtaposition of lines from two great poems by Wallace Stevens:

One beats and beats for that which one believes.
The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.

[Sources: Wallace Stevens, “The Man on the Dump”
Wallace Stevens, “Peter Quince at the Clavier”]

The leap from “Ash, ash—” to the line from “The Man on the Dump” seemed strangely captivating to me, and it is difficult to question the authority of the line from “Peter Quince at the Clavier.”

Second-place honors go to Poem Today, who explains that “the idea of ‘repetition as death’ [led] to the repetition of words and worlds” in these splendid lines from Howard Moss and Lord Tennyson:

The leaves’ leavetaking overtaking leaves
The lucid interspace of world and world.

[Sources: Howard Moss, “The Balcony with Birds”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Lucretius”]

Paul Michelsen comes in third with this exquisite conjunction of lines from Wilfred Owen and Joseph Ceravolo.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went
Without a desperation to sing.

[Sources: Wilfred Owen, “The Send-Off”
Joseph Ceravolo, “Soul in Migration”]

For the title of our effort I propose “All Fall Down,” the ending of a familiar nursery rhyme that connects aptly with the theme of ashes.

Here, then, is our cento, with stanzas assembled by Paul Michelsen, Berwyn Moore, Patricia Smith, and Jennifer Clarvoe:

All Fall Down

The wheels of a darkness without pain
Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses
Ten blind nights free of idiot guiding flares
And in the silence, drips and cackles—taciturn, luxurious.

He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards,
the experience of repetition as death.
Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end.
Who made a ceremony of ash?

Nobody heard him, the dead man.
The dead are with us to stay.
They gave away the gift of those useful bodies.
Ash, ash—

One beats and beats for that which one believes.
The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.

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David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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